Self-Sufficient Communities VS Independence

Self-sufficiency is a misleading term, it really is a misnomer. For many people the attraction of self-sufficient living is the idea of "independence". But as you pursue the ideal of self-sufficient living (as an individual or even family unit) you quickly discover that to maintain a relatively "high" standard of living requires you to abandon the notion of independence and embrace interdependence in a collective structure like intentional self-sufficient communities. It is by far the better and more realistic option...

As an individual or single family unit, a high degree of self-sufficiency is extremely difficult to achieve and it ultimately leads to less leisure time and a lower standard of living. The collective approach i.e. living in intentional communities or ecovillages allows you to tap into the far greater efficiencies which are essential for "sustainable" living and maintenance of a reasonably high standard of living.

The Case for Interdependence and Self-Sufficient Community

Sharing Infrastructure Costs

As soon as you embark upon self-sufficient living you discover that it costs money to get set up. A lot of money! There is a wall of costs that need to be climbed. The higher the degree of self-sufficiency you take aim at the higher the capital involved. A quick look at just some of the issues highlights the problem...

Water storage and reticulation systems require tanks, tank-stands, pumps and piping. Alternative off-grid power systems require substantial capital. A well equipped workshop is required. Vegetable gardens need fences, poultry need yards and shelter and even larger animals require fences for protection from predators. Firewood needs shelter to keep it dry and the list goes on.

Avoiding Unnecessary Duplication

Sharing the infrastructure costs is an obvious advantage of intentional communities but a more important contribution to sustainable society is avoiding unnecessary duplication. Take a look around in any rural residential area and you'll see multiple tractors, multiple workshops, multiple chainsaws, brush-cutters, mowers and much more laying idle between relatively infrequent uses.

Self-sufficient communities can avoid duplication (rampant consumption) by providing common workshop facilities, horticulture implements and even community vehicles for transportation.

Economy Of Scale

Economy of scale is the ability of larger groups to produce things more cheaply per unit because they produce so many. A simple example from the home garden is that row of cauliflowers that could quite easily have been 5 meters longer! Economy of scale also applies to the provision of consumables; self-sufficient communities can buy in bulk and save not only on the goods themselves but significant environmental and cost savings can be made on packaging and transportation as well.

Larger Skill Pool

As an individual attempting self-sufficiency you quickly discover the need for a wide variety of trade skills. It's an unfortunate fact of life that our society has grown overly complex. The growth of complexity has forced us to become highly specialized in rather obscure fields that have little relevance to self-sufficient living.

The bottom line here is that very few individuals have a wide enough range of essential skills to become self-sufficient on their own. A highly trained horticulturist is unlikely to have great welding and fabricating abilities. The highly trained plumber/ drainer /irrigator is very unlikely to have great skills as a seamstress!

The division of labor (with appropriate skills) provides efficiency for sustainable communities. Importantly, a larger skill base also implies the availability of many hands for tasks that require it.

Well-planned intentional communities will consciously seek members with appropriate, complimentary trade skills to build an appropriate skills base.

Sharing of Responsibility

Self-sufficient lifestyles will, of necessity, revolve around intensive horticulture, growing poultry or other appropriate livestock that require daily or routine tending. One of the greatest burdens of self-sufficient living is the "lack of freedom" from those day to day tasks. Taking a few days off for travel becomes impossible or difficult to orchestrate. Sharing of the responsibility provides opportunities for a break in routine or holidays.

Alternative Currency or Barter Systems

The debt money trap is perhaps the greatest reason for the establishment of self-sufficient communities as a better economic model. Because all money is created out of thin air and yet interest is charged on it, reliance on bank-created money causes terrible distortions and forces unsustainable economic growth.

As an individual there is little you can do to extricate yourself from our inherently flawed money system. Collectively though, we can set up systems to reduce our need of and dependence on "legal tender".

A "geographically close" collective like an intentional community, with a broad skill base, will of course be able to rely heavily on barter to eliminate the need for money. With a little more thought, there are viable alternative currency options available to sustainable communities.